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Scientist Dan Riskin Answers Your Questions About AI, Aliens, and the Animal Kingdom

Scientist Dan Riskin Answers Your Questions About AI, Aliens, and the Animal Kingdom

When a renowned evolutionary biologist and science journalist joins your roster, yes, you are going to ask him all your burning questions about science and the world around us!

Dan Riskin has dedicated his scientific career to igniting curiosity in audiences worldwide. Whether inspiring viewers as the co-host of Discovery Canada’s flagship science program, Daily Planet; terrifying them as the host of Animal Planet’s docu-horror show, Monsters Inside Me; or covering the latest news as CTV’s Science and Technology Specialist, Dan’s passion and curiosity have made him an unparalleled source of science inspiration for all.

As a keynote speaker, Dan gives audiences so much more than scientific “wow” facts. His keynotes, like his television shows, help people see their own curiosity in a new light, pursue their interests with more vigour, and tap into a deeper sense of inspiration. Just watch the videos below and you’ll see what we mean!

Speakers Spotlight: You’ve said that the emergence of artificial intelligence isn’t the first time we’ve seen intelligence evolve. How can evolution inform our approach to AI?

Dan Riskin: The thing about artificial intelligence is that it comes from tech people, so we’re looking to them for answers. But AI has emergent properties that go well beyond tech.

If you want to ask, what happens to a complex system when you bring in a new intelligent force, that is something that happens throughout evolutionary time over and over again. By looking at these evolutionary examples, we can find all kinds of ways to co-exist with AI — how it can make it better for us and some of the pitfalls we might fall into.

My favourite example from evolution is this bird called the honeyguide. It has a special call that it doesn’t do for other birds, it only does it for humans when it finds honey. The humans are like, “ah great, honey”, they go over to a tree, open it up, and get the honey. Then, they give some to the bird. They both get access to resources they wouldn’t have had otherwise. And that’s a perfect metaphor for what the possibilities are for AI.

Hear more from Dan on evolution and AI in the video below. He explores more of these evolutionary patterns and how organization’s can use them as a guide for their AI strategy in his keynote, “How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Artificial Intelligence”.

SpSp: Why do animals thrive as a collective, while humans struggle? What can animals teach us about teamwork?

DR: Groups of animals are the most magnificent thing you can ever lay your eyes on. If you see a school of fish all moving in unison or a murmuration of starlings in the sky, it’s mesmerizing — they are a beauty to behold. Then, you take humans, and we can’t merge on the freeway or get on an airplane without being put into group numbers and having a fight over our bags.  

Humans seem unable to do these collective movements even though we’re supposed to be the most intelligent creatures of all. So, what’s breaking down for humans? What allows these animals to work in such coordinated ways while humans fall short?

The answer comes down to not always needing to understand the big picture. Sometimes, if you want your team to work well as a unit, they don’t need to see the big picture; they just need to focus on what they’re optimizing in their little world. The starlings aren’t trying to make a beautiful cloud, they’re paying attention to just a few neighbours around them and then this beautiful cloud emerges. That’s the lesson for people.

In his keynote “Unleashing the Power of Collective Intelligence”, Dan explores the science behind group thinking and shares tangible lessons on teambuilding. Watch the video below to learn more:

SpSp: You’ve recently been speaking in the news about aliens following the discovery of what could be “alien mummies” in Mexico. Why does it feel weird to discuss alien life in a scientific setting?

DR: UFOs feel like this dirty thing that you’re not supposed to talk about. But there’s something fundamentally magic about the way it feels to see a light in the sky and wonder what it is. And that’s kind of what science is all about. So, to stigmatize that and say UFOs are off the table, you’re sort of shooting yourself in the foot.

What we’re doing now is changing the conversation around UFOs, and other things that have been on the fringes for a long time, and finding ways to bring those into the scientific mainstream so we can address them and move the conversation forward.

Hear more about Dan’s thoughts on UFOs in the video below:

SpSp: How do we navigate increased public distrust in science?

DR: For a long time, scientists were able to hold this sort of mystique — they’re the experts and they’ll tell you what the answers are. That’s been working fine until recently. People have grown tired of this — if they can’t see why you came to that conclusion, they’re not going to just believe it anymore. And that’s valid, in fact that’s what the scientists themselves are supposed to be doing.

So, how the public and scientist interact must change. And I think the solution is coming. I’m very optimistic about it, because what scientists are doing now is engaging with the public on the process. They’re talking about how they learn stuff, sharing data, and making things open source. They’re interacting with the public in a completely new way, and that’s where the solution to this problem lies.

Hear more from Dan in the video below:

SpSp: As a scientist and a biologist, what’s fascinating you right now?

DR: I’m really curious about our interactions with the natural world, and I’m really curious about he effects phones are having on that. It’s easy to say phones are terrible and everyone should put them away, but I’ve found that my phone makes my interactions with nature richer than they were before.

For example, I can take an amazing macro photograph of an insect, put it on iNaturalist and find out what it is, its geographic range, and be on the lookout for invasive species. So the phone is actually a tool that can make interactions with nature more profound, and I’m really curious about how to bring that to more people. Where all of a sudden, they can engage with nature on a similar level to what you experience when you see a giraffe on a safari, because nature is everywhere and it’s fascinating.

Contact us to learn more about Dan and to book him for your next event.

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